I said a little while ago: in Kathleen Kennedy I trust. I don’t mean that JJ Abrams isn’t a hugely capable director, and I don’t mean that he doesn’t love all things geek. I don’t mean that I don’t rate Michael Arndt, who wrote the first draft and who knows a thing or two about story, or that I wasn’t thrilled to see that Lawrence Kasdan was in play working on the new episodes of the Star Wars franchise.
What I mean is that, even with all those advantages, movies can go wrong. Moviemaking is not so much an ocean filled with icebergs as a narrow stretch of water between vast, grinding walls of blue-green. Directors are rightly referred to as being at the helm of the ship, which is a tacit acknowledgement that there’s one person whose job is differently vital – who puts the crew together and resolves disputes, and in whom is vested ultimate sanction: the captain. Kathleen Kennedy is a very, very good captain.
And so here we are, with the first trailer worthy of the name, and the first inkling of what this new post-Lucas Star Wars will be. I’m sitting on the floor of my living room watching it on a loop, not because I want to write this piece, but because I want to see it over and over again. This piece is a consequence, because I have to say something to make real what I’m seeing.
Here’s what I get, assuming the full product is represented by the trailer:
1. This film will not be a retreat to the style of the original ones. It will be a continuation of them, and it seems on this showing to have grasped them in way that the prequels never did, but it will also be an evolution. Consider: were you ever, in IV-VI, invited to think of the universe as beautiful? Were you offered a static space through which characters move? Not really. The universe was OH WOW and OOOH, WEIRD. Dagobah, Tatooine and Endor were backdrops, spaces for action – they were alien environments with aliens stories in them. In the first seconds of the trailer, we see an empty, silent space full of light and quiet. This is a movie that embraces worlds, crowds, vistas, expanse. It’s not a boutique piece: it’s vast.
2. The creative team is deep in the mythos, and they’ve been smart about it. The first thing I notice – and love – is that the Jedi are still essentially forgotten. The Force is still a bedtime story. That makes it special again, but it also means that the movies will follow the audience, with the magic dawning and awakening in the story as it does in us. “Just let it in,” the trailer urges, and of course that’s what we’ve always wanted to do. It’s an elegant decision, and a very clever one I didn’t see coming. It makes the story more a fable, and concommitantly more fabulous.
3. It’s a movie of its time, in a classic mode. That’s to say that it is a movie about the rediscovery of faith after a burning disappointment. Once, we had Luke growing up and eager to leave home. Here we have two characters against the sand background who are older and seem to have lost something – probably faith. That’s a classic of American cinema and American self-invention, rooted in the Capra tradition. It’s an inevitable need for generational redefinition in a nation that speaks itself into existence, felt particularly sharply now when the US is more divided than it’s been for a long, long time, when the promise of Liberal Democratic Capitalism is feeling empty to a lot of people. In a Capra film, you’d see the central characters going to the wilderness heartland of the US to find the soul of America, and to the founding documents to find its conscious self. In this trailer we already know we’re in the desert, and we already hear the voices of the founders speaking. Someone, sooner or later, will give the Alec Guinness speech about the Force – effectively the Constiution of the Star Wars nation. Why is all that babble remotely important? Because if it isn’t there, this kind of movie is a succession of things going SPLODE. That’s fine for Mission Impossible. It’s not enough for The Force Awakens.
4. @MeritoCoffee nailed it on Twitter just now:
It also takes the daring step of not sucking.
Exactly. Saint Kathleen of the Re-envisioning, look well upon us now, and in the editing room, amen.